The Obama administration is urging Congress not to adopt legislation that would impose constitutional safeguards on Americans’ e-mail stored in the cloud. As the law stands now, the authorities may obtain cloud e-mail without a warrant if it is older than 180 days, thanks to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act adopted in 1986. At that time, e-mail left on a third-party server for six months was considered to be abandoned, and thus enjoyed less privacy protection. However, the law demands warrants for the authorities to seize e-mail from a person’s hard drive.In other words, the Obama administration thinks it is too much of a burden on the government to have to establish probable cause and obtain a warrant before they go snooping through someone's email. "It's too damn hard!" they say, as if that isn't the whole point of the Fourth Amendment. Consider the response of Republican Senator Chuck Grassley. From CNET:
A coalition of internet service providers and other groups, known as Digital Due Process, has lobbied for an update to the law to treat both cloud- and home-stored e-mail the same, and thus require a probable-cause warrant for access. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on that topic Tuesday. . . . James A. Baker, associate deputy attorney general, testified:
"in order to obtain a search warrant for a particular e-mail account, law enforcement has to establish probable cause to believe that evidence will be found in that particular account. In some cases, this link can be hard to establish."
Baker told (PDF) a Senate committee that requiring a search warrant to obtain stored e-mail could have an "adverse impact" on criminal investigations. And making location information only available with a search warrant, he said, would hinder "the government's ability to obtain important information in investigations of serious crimes."
Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, seemed to agree. It's crucial, he said, "to ensure we don't limit (law enforcement's) ability to obtain information necessary to catch criminals and terrorists who use electronic communication." He also suggested that requiring warrants would lead to "increased burdens on the court system." [Emphasis added.]